Berkeley community observes Japanese American Day of Remembrance

Photo of entrance to exhibition "Uprooted" at The Bancroft Library Gallery
Charlene Wang/Staff
The city of Berkeley as well as UC Berkeley took steps to observe the Japanese American Day of Remembrance, with Bancroft Library hosting am exhibit until June 30 documenting the incarceration of Americans of Japanese descent during World War II.

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Members of the Berkeley community gathered on Saturday in remembrance of the forced detainment of Americans of Japanese descent in internment camps during World War II.

Berkeley Mayor Jesse Arreguín and Hiroshi Kawamura, Consul General of Japan to San Francisco, held the event at the First Congregational Church of Berkeley to commemorate the Japanese American Day of Remembrance, the 80th anniversary of the executive order that enforced the detainment of 120,000 people of Japanese ancestry, according to a city press release. The press release noted that of the 120,000 Americans incarcerated, approximately 1,300 were Berkeley residents.

The First Congregational Church is where Japanese American residents gathered before being boarded on buses to internment camps, according to a city press release. Those subject to relocation were offered food and logistical support by the church, according to Reverend Kelly Colwell, pastor at the First Congregational Church.

“It’s not enough to make it a nicer day for people as they get shipped off to prison camps,” Colwell said. “To really resist an order like that we all have to be ready to get in the way.”

In remembrance of the internment period, Bancroft Library is holding an exhibit named “Uprooted: The Incarceration of Japanese Americans,” through June 30 to tell the story of the incarceration of Japanese Americans during WWII, according to exhibit co-curator Julie Musson.

An annotated map provided by Musson demonstrates the locations of “real property owned by persons with Japanese names” as of March 1, 1941. Much of this property was concentrated in southwest Berkeley.

At a Berkeley City Council meeting on Feb. 8, a resolution authored by the Peace and Justice Commission, a 15-member panel that advises the council and school board on issues of peace and social justice, adopted Feb. 19 as the Japanese Day of Remembrance in Berkeley “in recognition of the mass incarceration of Japanese Americans and Japanese Latin Americans during World War II,” according to the meeting agenda.

Grace Morizawa, member of the Peace and Justice Commission and author of the resolution, said the original intent was to advocate for reparations for incarcerated Japanese Americans and their descendants and to “educate the community.”

Recently, however, the focus of advocates has broadened to include other groups who face similar policies based on racial discrimination.

“Not only do we want to remember the past but we want to make sure it never happens again,” said campus senior and president of the UC Berkeley Nikkei Student Union Matthew Kojima. “We don’t want what happened to our ancestors to happen to other groups.”

Kojima highlighted two specific causes he focuses on, the incarceration of immigrant families on the U.S.-Mexico border and reparations for Japanese Latin Americans from South America who were deported to the U.S. during WWII to be used as prisoner exchanges.

The Campaign for Justice is a grassroots organization founded in 1996 by former Japanese Latin-American internees and their descendants, according to the organization’s website. The organization held a “Day of Action” on Feb. 24 calling for reparations for Japanese Latin Americans.

“They were taken — kidnapped,” Morizawa said. “It’s a little-known story. It isn’t widely known.”

Contact Alexander Wohl at [email protected].